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Ashton Carter tops list to be nominated as defense secretary

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is expected to be named Secretary of Defense any day, U.S. officials told MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is expected to be nominated by President Obama for U.S. Secretary of Defense any day now, officials told MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell. He will replace outgoing Secretary Chuck Hagel, who resigned under pressure last week.

Carter joined the Obama administration in 2009, eventually rising to be the Pentagon’s second-in-command from 2011 to 2013. There he managed the Pentagon’s budget, its 2.2 million employees and rose within the ranks of Obama administration. The 59-year-old resigned in late 2013 after being passed up for the defense secretary job.

Just hours after news broke that Hagel would resign, several contenders emerged as likely replacements for the defense secretary many critics derided as ineffective, including Carter, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy.

Related: Conflict with White House eyed in Hagel exit

Reed's spokesman shot the rumor on the same day of Hagel's resignation, stating that "he has made it very clear that he does not wish to be considered for Secretary of Defense or any other cabinet position. He just asked the people of Rhode Island to hire him for another six year term and plans on honoring that commitment." Meanwhile, Flournoy, who would have been the country’s first female secretary of defense, quickly told the White House she does not want to be considered for the role, citing family reasons. 

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was also nominated for the job. But on Monday, Mitchell reported that he was not in contention because the White House decided he was too controversial based on his connection to immigration policy. 

A Rhodes Scholar, theoretical physicist, and former Harvard professor with a bachelor’s degree in medieval history, Carter has largely shied away from being a political heavy hitter, the very thing that helped Hagel, a former Republican senator, secure the nomination in 2013.

The White House reportedly lost confidence in Hagel less than two years after his nomination. President Obama indicated discussions over Hagel’s departure began last month.

“He often had trouble articulating the details of many of the operations, many of the incantations, of what goes on here at the White House and he had a difficult time expressing those thoughts,” said NBC News’ Jim Miklaszewski on the day of Hagel's resignation.

“It appeared he sometimes didn’t even have a grasp of them. And quite frankly, according to one senior official, the White House and the DOD leadership pretty much lost confidence in Hagel," he said.